Delusions and Deceit: Dick Diver and Dick Whitman
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been mainlining old episodes of Mad Men like it’s my job. If you watch the show, you know the last (half) season of the show is premiering on Sunday night. There are only 7 episodes left, and I have to say, I’m both really sad to see the show end and excited to see how it all goes down.
I started watching the show just after season 1, renting the DVDs from Netflix. By the time season 2 premiered, I was watching every week on tv. I tell anyone who’ll listen that it’s the best show on television. It’s beautiful to watch–the attention to detail, the fashion (oh man, the fashion), the characters–they’re all stunning. And because the show has now spanned an entire decade (the 1960s), each of the characters has undergone dramatic transformations–peaks and valleys of tragedy and joy (though usually more tragedy than joy, honestly), showing a range of emotions not usually seen or explored on network television (until recently, anyway).
It’s been strange to go back and rewatch the older episodes, since I haven’t really done so since I first watched them more than five years ago. I’ve seen an old episode here and there, but I’ve never consciously sat down to watch them all in a row. Binge-watching tv, something Netflix has made prevalent and easy, is a guilty pleasure that I honestly don’t much partake in. It’s not that I have discipline or am too busy, it’s just that I get restless and bored pretty easily. But I’ve actually made binge-watching Mad Men a priority in life over the past couple of weeks, meaning I’m watching 2-3 episodes a night sometimes. I’m still only in the beginning of season 3, though, so I’m not going to make it all the way through before Sunday night, but it’s still been fun to try, and to remember everything that came before where the show is now.
Last week I was also reading Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s last completed novel. It’s the story of Dick Diver, a charismatic and handsome psychiatrist living on the French Riviera in the 1920s with his wife Nicole and two children. The beginning of the novel starts much like The Great Gatsby in that it seems like it’s going to be a portrait of a certain class and group of people–in this case, American expats living in France and throwing parties on the beach. But as the novel rolls forward, it becomes the story of Dick’s rise and ultimate fall.
As I read, I was struck by the similarities between Dick Diver and Don Draper (aka Dick Whitman). Don Draper is, of course, living a complete lie–he’s assumed another man’s identity and professes to be a family man while he’s sleeping with just about every woman who lays eyes on him. Dick Diver’s duplicity is more subtle, but no less self-destructive. He marries Nicole Warren, a rich and beautiful young schizophrenic he meets at a clinic he’s visiting in Switzerland. He believes he can help her become well again, but in the meanwhile, the two hide her illness from everyone around them, and Dick pushes aside his work and his happiness in order to preserve Nicole’s health and the appearances that they’re a happy, healthy family. While he pushes forward in this delusion, Dick becomes more and more disillusioned and angry, lashing out with drinking and violence and long trips. The story, unsurprisingly, does not end happily.
I don’t know what’s in store for Don Draper. I have very complicated feelings for him. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he’s played by Jon Hamm, one of the most good-looking men on this planet, but I’ve found myself rooting for him despite his many affairs and lies and chauvinism and gross abuses of power. He’s a bad father, a terrible husband, and really, just not a great human being. He’s cowardly and doesn’t understand how to share his emotions, instead drowning them in alcohol and sex (mostly with women who are not his wife). But he’s alarmingly human and when he has good moments, I hold my breath and hope for the best. He almost always lets me down, but I haven’t given up on him completely yet.
What is the draw of duplicity for these men? What about leading a double life, wearing a constant mask, hiding from the truth and any real emotion, appeals to them, causes them to think that everything will be okay in the end? If anything, they prove that running away and hiding only makes life worse, but I’m still so interested to see what happens to Don and Betty and Joan and Peggy and Pete and the rest.